Aberdeen and manager Stephen Glass will have no better stage to prove they are back on track than at Ibrox tonight.
In defeating Hibs 1-0 at Pittodrie, the Reds hauled themselves out of a concerning tailspin in form and showed signs of a potential revival.
Whether that much-needed win is the catalyst for a long-term upturn in fortunes or a positive blip in a negative slump remains to be seen.
Signs against Hibs are that it could be the start of an extended upsurge in fortunes as for the first time in months the Dons got the balance of attack and defence right.
The Reds were potent in attack for spells and also solid at the back in securing a first clean sheet since August 1.
That was despite suffering the disruption of losing two defenders, Calvin Ramsay and Declan Gallagher, to injury in the first half.
Aberdeen cannot let the momentum of that first win in 11 games grind to a halt in Govan.
There is no tougher match in Scotland than an away trip to the league leaders and defending Premiership champions.
That task possibly got even tougher as Rangers will be backed by a passionate support desperate to pay tribute to club legend Walter Smith, who has sadly passed away.
However, it follows that there can be no stronger message the Reds are ready to finally kick-start their season than securing a positive result at Ibrox.
In the final game of last season, Aberdeen crashed 4-0 at the same venue and were punished for showing Rangers far too much respect in the first-half.
That was Glass’ last game with the squad he inherited from former boss Derek McInnes.
Now Glass will go to Ibrox for the first time with the side he has built.
Aberdeen must not show the same respect in the opening 45 minutes at Ibrox, particularly in light of Rangers’ narrow 2-1 defeat of St Mirren at the weekend.
Rangers were lethargic in the first half against St Mirren and, if Aberdeen go on the front foot and are positive, they can exploit any repeat of that slow start.
The fixtures against the top six sides over October and November were always going to make or break Aberdeen’s season.
It is very much sink or swim, and by the end of next month Aberdeen supporters will have a strong indication as to the standing of Glass’ rebuilt side in the Premiership.
Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack was vociferous and passionate in his backing of Glass in a radio interview ahead of the clash with Hibs.
That public display of faith in the management team seems to also have filtered through to the squad as they looked more relaxed against Hibs.
Individual defensive mistakes, which had been so costly in the recently ended 10-game undefeated run, were eradicated.
Errors often stem from nerves and doubt. They were gone against Hibs.
That must remain the case at Ibrox because Rangers have the attack that will punish any slip-ups.
It was also telling that in the immediate aftermath of Christian Ramirez’s winning goal players ran to the dugout to celebrate with Glass and the management team.
The squad, management and board are clearly unified in the bid to haul Aberdeen back up the table to where their budget demands they should be.
Having made 10 new signings in the summer in the drive to integrate a new footballing philosophy to Aberdeen, the transition was unlikely to be completely seamless.
It started so well with five wins from six, but like any rollercoaster ride – when you go up, you come down.
Following the disastrous 2-1 loss to Dundee, Glass admitted the Dons were ‘rock bottom‘. The rise back up may have started with the show of unity and subsequent defeat of Hibs.
It has to continue at Ibrox.
Defensive cover will have to step up
Aberdeen face a defensive crisis for tonight’s trip to Rangers and their replacements will have to step up to the mark.
The loss of Calvin Ramsay, Jack MacKenzie and Declan Gallagher for the next few weeks to injury is a major blow.
Full-backs Ramsay and MacKenzie have impressed this season and 18-year-old Ramsay delivered a superb cross to set up Christian Ramirez’s winner against Hibs.
It was the teenager’s fourth assist in four games, but Ramsay unfortunately suffered an injury in the first half of that win.
His absence offers an opportunity for summer signing Jack Gurr to come in and stake a claim for a starting place. It will be tough to overtake a fit Ramsay, but Gurr can try.
Gurr hasn’t featured for the first team since starting in the 2-1 League Cup loss to Raith Rovers on August 15 – the start of the recently-ended 10-game winless run.
The former Atlanta United right-back’s only game time since then has been for the U20s in the Challenge Cup ties against Arbroath and Hamilton.
Gurr has been overshadowed by the rise of Ramsay, who is attracting interest from Premier League Manchester United, Everton, West Ham, Leicester and Southampton.
Away to Rangers is the ideal chance for him to emerge from the shadows.
Aberdeen will also be without left-back MacKenzie, although Jonny Hayes can effortlessly slot into that position.
With Scotland international Declan Gallagher also limping off against Hibs, it looks like it could be Gurr, Ross McCrorie, David Bates and Hayes in a back four.
Manager Stephen Glass could go for a back three with wing-backs to mitigate the chance of being caught on the break.
Either way, Aberdeen’s defence will have to stay switched on for the entire 90 minutes if they are to have a chance of back to back clean sheets.
Scottish football has lost a legend
Scottish football has lost one of the all-time greats with the passing of Rangers’ legendary manager Walter Smith.
Rangers, and Scottish football, will be in mourning for tonight’s Premiership clash against Aberdeen.
I am sure Dons fans at Ibrox will united in mourning, and respecting, one of the game’s greats.
During his time as Scotland manager, he was very generous with his time and gave me a number of one-to-one interviews because I had journeyed down from the Granite City.
He was kind, engaging, open and honest to me – a true gentleman.